Current News



When COVID deaths are dismissed or stigmatized, grief is mixed with shame and anger

Brett Sholtis, WITF on

Published in News & Features

Dixon’s sisters said that’s the attitude they often perceive in people’s responses to the news of their brother’s death — asking whether he had preexisting conditions or if he was overweight, as if he were to blame.

Those who criticize or dismiss victims of the pandemic are unlikely to change their minds easily, said Holly Prigerson, a sociologist specializing in grief. She said judgmental comments stem from a psychological concept known as cognitive dissonance.

If people believe the pandemic is a hoax, or that the dangers of the virus are overblown, then “anything, including the death of a loved one from this disease … they compartmentalize it,” Prigerson said. “They’re not going to process it. It gives them too much of a headache to try to reconcile.”

She advises that people whose families or friends aren’t willing to acknowledge the reality of COVID-19 might have to set new boundaries for those relationships.

As Rimel continues to mourn her brother’s death, she has found relief by joining bereavement support groups with others who agree on the facts about COVID-19. In August, she and her mother attended a remembrance march for COVID-19 victims in downtown Pittsburgh, organized by the group COVID Survivors for Change.

And in June, a headstone was placed on Dixon’s grave.


Near the bottom is a blunt message for the public, and for posterity: F--- COVID-19.

Long after they are gone, the family wants the truth to endure.

“We want to make sure that people know Kyle’s story, and that he passed away from the virus,” Rimel said.


(KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation. This story is from a partnership that includes NPR, WITF and KHN.)

©2021 Kaiser Health News. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.